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What Is Neurofeedback? Brainwave Therapy

Neuron CommunicationWhat is neurofeedback? Neurofeedback, also as “neurotherapy” and “EEG biofeedback,” has been around since 1960’s. In short, neurofeedback teaches self-regulation of deviant brainwave activity. Media attention over the past few years increased due to interest from parents who seek drug free solutions for child behavior problems, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Realize first that all humans are electrical-chemical beings (governed through action potentials and neurotransmitters).  Humans literally create and emit electricity from their bodies. This is amazing if you stop to think about it.  Every thought, physical movement, or emotion has an underlying physical and, many times, measurable electrical event. 

Happiness, laughter, depression, excitement, and even a fleeting thought require certain electrical brain states.  What would happen if electrical events in the brain (called brainwaves or EEG) were somehow altered?  Would changes in emotion, thought, and behavior follow?  Many researchers and clinicians believe this to be true, and this is the underlying premise of neurofeedback.  Many years of neurofeedback training provide personal validation of this treatment and its concepts, though researchers have not discovered its specific mechanism of action.

More specifically, neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback used to treat a variety of disorders in children and adults, such as ADHD, anxiety, epilepsy, depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Neurofeedback was developed after years of EEG research that demonstrated that symptoms common to many disorders are associated with specific patterns of abnormal brain wave activity. Brainwave activity is not usually under voluntary control, but with training, most people can reliably and significantly alter their brainwaves. 

During a neurofeedback sessions, computer generated graphics and audio act as rewards (based on operant conditioning principles) to signal positive changes in brain states.  Trainees play games or even watch their favorite DVD movie (this is a new and exciting development in reward procedures).  For example, a trainee must maintain certain brainwave states as defined by their neurotherapist to keep the DVD video and audio from fading.  A typical training session lasts around 30 minutes and is performed multiple times per week. Remember that neurofeedback is a “passive” treatment and no electricity is delivered to the brain; rather, the neurotherapy hardware/software work together to act as a mirror to internal brain processes.

There is an excellent free article called “What is Neurofeedback?” that was written for the general public by a renowned EEG biofeedback clinician and researcher.  This is a good place to start for additional information.

Additional Resources:

International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (iSNR)

Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB)

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